Radical Acceptance of What I Perceive, Part 2

I believe it was Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who, when asked to define pornography, said, “If you ask me, I can’t tell you, but I know it when I see it.” The experience of Zen living is the same. When you ask me to explain,  I can only laugh or point all around or remain silent: all good answers. It’s like trying to explain water to an atheist fish who says she doesn’t believe in water even though she’s immersed in it. Same thing with us humans.

We desire the “Ultimate Truth”, the irreducible “Meaning of Life”,  the “Key to the Kingdom” and the Road to Oz. If I shrug and tell you to stop your search, that you are the goal, that any meaning, any truth and any peace is already all around you, you’d most likely go elsewhere for a more traditional and consumable answer, pre-packaged as dogma, as belief, and ultimately as lies.

Again, I’ve wandered off into Zenville, where the phrases sound pregnant with meaning but only lead to a still-born truth. The dirty little secret about Zen practice is that to understand it you must DO IT! Thought without action is impotency of the spirit. My understanding of Zen (which is centered in my gut these days, not my skull) is  of complete 100% immersion IN THIS VERY WORLD. Do you know another? Can you show me? When cut, I bleed. When poor, I need. When sad, I cry. When old, I die. Like that. Just like that.

it is only in our refusal to accept the very real nature of our world that we suffer. We form egos as armor and wail if the world doesnt conform to what the Little Hitler of “I” wants. “Whaaa, Whaaaa, Whaaaa!” Babies! Good and bad, right and wrong, even male and female become the two fists of the closed mind with which we assail reality and ourselves, trying to beat it into a shape of which we approve. We and the world only end up bloodied. Turn on the news. Go look in the mirror.

Accepting this world doesn’t necessarily mean approving of it, either. In fact, it has nothing to do with anything like that. On this path, acceptance of WHAT IS is a tactic and a strategy, as is much of Zen practice. It is no accident that the martial arts were founded by Zen monks. Again: the primacy of spontaneous but disciplined action in the real world over thought and fantasy realms.

Zen is Kung Fu of the Mind, a Karate of the Soul. All you need to know is that IT WORKS!!!! Believe me, I’ve been at over 40 years now and would’ve dumped it years ago if it was only a nice little belief system. Buddha said to test his teaching as you would gold given in payment for a debt. Bite it, bend it, appraise it. Zen, for this being, has been a results-based way of life, although understanding that any so-called results are also a product of my small self. Nothing has really changed, just my perception of it & my interaction with it.

Acceptance is a grand, warm and fuzzy sounding word and touted much in the 12 step programs. But how do I accept the seemingly unacceptable? Where can I be granted the wisdom to know the difference?  In this essay, I am arguing for a RADICAL ACCEPTANCE OF WHAT I PERCEIVE as the first step toward true Attainment and the Recovery of our Original Natures..

What do mean by “radical?” For me, radical means extreme and unqualified embrace of the outer limits of experience, nothing held back. Usually, when we think we’re at 100%, we’re always holding a bit in reserve, operating at maybe 98%. It is this missing 2% that is the rocket fuel, the second wind in a close race, the secret all masters of anything know. Our human natures are essentially conservative, seeking security, even in demonstrably false belief systems. Better the devil you know, blah, blah, blah…Psychological comfort usually trumps the rewards of truth.

But what would happen if we really, truly threw caution to the wind, jumped off the cliff of self and plunged into the unknown? Maybe we’d hit a trampoline or land in a hot tub. Or possibly splatter on the rocks below. (See “Hanging from A Cliff” in The Zen of Recovery, my favorite koan and tool). Radical acceptance means to open yourself to any and all possiblities while divesting yourself of any expectation or opinions about what you perceive. Radical acceptance is what a mirror does, radical acceptance is what a mirror sees.

Before we can even begin to set foot on this path, something is asked, something demanded: that you forsake all you have know and step into everything you haven’t known. Completely, absolutely just experience all you see, smell, hear, taste  and touch without judging, without desire or repulsion. Just this. OK? Anything short is not real life, but a zombie satori. To wake up into the greater reality, we need the loud alarm clock of action.

At first, this way of perceiving is nearly impossible and seems magical. Agreed on both accounts. But start today. Just try, my Zen master used to say. Try, try, try. When you drink coffee, just drink coffee. Don’t bemoan the lack of sugar or praise its rich body. When you miss the bus, don’t feel sorry for yourself or bitch about the transit company. Start in a thousand tiny ways. We weave our new consciousness out of countless and insignicant daily acts.

If you do these simple things, what we call “Reality” will start to re-configure itself before your astonished eyes and you realize that, ultimately, it is YOU who are making all this up. You can un-make it as well. And that includes your suffering, your fears and your loneliness. How radical does that sound? Part 3 manana. Blessings.




What is Zen? (20 Years Later)

What is Zen? Nearly every writer on this topic has penned a piece with this very title. Twenty years ago, I led off my first book, The Zen of Recovery with “What is Zen?” Although we understand that words are inadequate to the task, we try anyway. Instead of repeating what I said in that old essay (of which, by the way, I wouldn’t change a word!), I want to attempt to describe a more mature (I’m 60 now!) and useful approxiamation of what Zen is and what is actually does in our lives.

I’ll try to stay away from cute, inscutable riddles and obfuscating metaphors, although any self-respecting Zen text is embroidered with them! Instead, I want to sincerely and plainly describe to you what I believe that slippery thing called “Zen” has meant in my life and how I practice it moment to moment, a day at a time. I assume if you’re reading this, you already have some experience in these matters or are familiar with the basic spiritual concepts. If not, you can first read my “What is Zen” essay at my website on the Zen of Recovery page: www.melash.com.

The practice of Zen has become, after all this time, for me as natural as breathing or eating. I am sometimes at a loss to describe it to curious new friends who discover this aspect of my life. While some may find it “exotic” or “spiritual”, I tend it view it as “What I Do.” Nothing more, nothing less. No big deal. Zen has led me to a place of great serenity and self-knowledge, delivered me from alcoholic insanity and allowed my native talents and creativity to blossom rather than being  choked with weeds of self-doubt and self- loathing.

It is all these things, but even more. More than being just a cool self-therapy or an effective spiritual path, Zen has allowed me to become confortable in my own skin, claim my place confidently in the chain of life and to view the good and the bad with equanimity. Most of the time!

Am I serene as a Buddha, beyond all human suffering and anger? Am I cleansed of all my karma and fear? If I was, I would be a poor excuse for a Zen Buddhist! I get angry, I cry, I grieve, I desire, I doubt, I f*&k up. But I try to do all these thing 100% and  not to hold on to the experiences after they’ve passed. Zen has made me a true human being along with all that means. I’m just like you, maybe more so!

To exist unashamedly in this human form  and to embrace its totality is, I believe, equivalent to the illusive state of Nirvana or the much ballyhooed attainment of Enlightenent. Disappointed? Don’t be. All Zen teachers say you are alreay a Buddha, already enlightened. Why not take them at their word? Why not stop looking for hidden meanings and deeper teachings? The truth is as present as the glasses on the end of your nose. You can stop looking for them now! Truth is a slap on the forehead and a loud “A-ha!”

What I am groping toward is a practical and immediately applicable defintion of what  is that Zen has given me. It might prove useful to you as well. These days, the phrase


keeps recurring in my thoughts. In the next few blog entries, I’ll explore this concept, word by word, and hopefully, be able to hand you a tool for immediate application in your own life.  I would like this to become a dialog and mutual examination and sharing. Please comment and post your own ideas about this phrase: RADICAL ACCEPTANCE OF WHAT I PERCEIVE. More later. Thanks for your kind attention.